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Demented pop and psychedelia collide...
on 4 November 2006
I'm not wholly convinced of the review below that feels this is more extreme than the previous year's `Locust Abortion Technician' - I'm of the mind that those Butthole Surfers were on the path to a pop of sorts, away from `Locust...' and the previous album `Rembrandt Pussyhorse.' Their fine albums that followed were more conventional, but always worth a punt, and `Hairway to Steven' charts that transition.
The sound of `Locust Abortion Technician' is most definitely continued with epic opener `Jimi', twelve minutes of primal drumming, distorted vocals, Sabbath riffs, and related oddness. Gibby's vocals hear definitely sound in the same ballpark as Prince's Camille-distortions on `The Black Album', notably the superfine `Bob George' - compare and contrast pop kids, compare and contrast...
`Jimi' seems to continue and conclude the previous album, much of the record that follows is a lot more listenable, c'mon be honest, there are songs here, whereas the previous album only really had one conventional song (the mighty `Human Cannonball'). `Ricky' sounds like a much tighter 13th Floor Elevators, with a hint of hardcore, Morricone, and Sabbath , while the charming `I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas' demonstrates the vast debt Flaming Lips & Mercury Rev owe the band - Gibby's vocals almost like Buddy Holly at one point. This is catchy psychedelia with some lovely acoustic guitars and a great "Hey! Hey!" line...it sounds like pop in my demented world!
`John E. Smokes' opens with a crowd noise, a bit Santana and a bit Tenacious D with some Ry Cooder style guitar before the drums come in - supreme stuff. `Rocky' is more jangly acoustic driven psychedelic pop, Butthole Surfers being key behind the new wave of psychedelia that followed (see also The Teardrop Explodes, Julian Cope, Bongwater, the Paisley Underground, Spacemen 3, PTV) - in the years that followed acts like the Lips, the Rev, The Kingsbury Manx, Royal Trux (I think `Twin Infinitives' is very Buttholes influenced), Neutral Milk Hotel, Silver Jews, Comets on Fire, Espers, Screaming Trees etc have followed these paths. `Julio Iglesias' sounds like the Cramps on a Beefheart tip, which can only be a great thing, this is way less noisy and TG-Sabbath colliding than the previous two Buttholes albums. `Backass' is closer to the earlier stuff, but there's still a song there, the final track `Fart Song' sounds like American hardcore, but delivered in Gibby's manipulated vocal style...all great stuff then.
`Hairway to Steven' (what a great title! What a great cover!) is a truly great album, certainly a more listenable Butthole Surfers than their earlier stuff - personally I drive round to `Locust Abortion Technician' often and think it's quite normal to sing along to '22 Going on 23', `Kuntz', or `Sweat Loaf.' But if you want a poppier take on their sound, this is a fine place to begin, and if you dig Beefheart, Dr John, or the Lips, this feels like a relative! Good to see Gibby is back on the upcoming PTV3 album and that Butthole Surfers have new material in the pipeline. How could we live without them?